Aquatic Decomposition in Chlorinated and Freshwater Environments

Alley, Olivia A.
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Forensic investigations involving human remains frequently occur in aqueous environments. Deceased individuals have been discovered in aqueous environments such as fresh water, sea water, and chlorinated water. Of the numerous questions posed when a human body is found, “when did this individual die,” is always near the top of the list. In any forensic investigation, the establishment of the postmortem interval (PMI) is a priority. The estimation of PMI in aqueous environments is complex and has just begun to be researched (Payne and King 1972, Reh et al. 1977, Haskell et al. 1989, Haglund 1993, Rodriguez 1997, O’Brien 1997, Haglund and Sorg 2002, Seet 2005). Additionally, of the research that has been conducted in regards to aquatic environments, there is an absence of research utilizing chlorinated water. The absence of such research could be the result of the assumption that a deceased individual would be quickly discovered in such an environment. However, there has been a failure to establish whether the chemical composition of the chlorinated water will have an impact on the PMI when compared with freshwater. This research attempts to make a comparison between rates of decomposition in freshwater and chlorinated water environments. In establishing a research design, it is the intention of the author to create a constant environment in which the effect of chlorine on PMI could be observed. The chlorinated water environments that were created for this research were adjusted to be as close to a standard pool environment as possible. Factors that were considered when designing these environments for accuracy consisted of: water movement, filtration, and chlorine level of the water. Freshwater environments acted as controls for the study and were compared to the chlorinated water environments. The freshwater environments mimicked the chlorinated environments with the exception of the chlorine. Additionally, diatoms and other freshwater inhabitants were absent allowing for a more consistent and accurate comparison for the chlorinated subjects. The ability of investigators to establish the PMI of an individual can not only expedite the identification of the individual, but in a homicide investigation could help establish possible suspects of the crime. This study is an attempt to bring to light the possible significance of alternative chlorinated water environments during the process of decomposition. This thesis is a preliminary study into the possible effect that a chlorinated water environment could have on the process of decomposition. If a distinction can be made between the processes of decay in freshwater and chlorinated water environments, this research could assist investigators in more accurately determining the postmortem interval. This thesis will try to explicate the following questions: Does the presence of chlorine in a water decomposition situation have an effect on the postmortem interval? What additional factors could contribute to the rate of decomposition in freshwater and chlorinated environments? Does the addition of superficial trauma have an effect on the rate of decomposition in these environments? How could this be valuable information to forensic anthropologists.
Aquatic decomposition, Freshwater, Water, Decomposition
Alley, O. A. (2007). <i>Aquatic decomposition in chlorinated and freshwater environments</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.